Topics discussed during this proceeding included The Art of Learning, The Art of Discovery, The Art of the Arts, and the Art of Expression.
Creative Texas 2.0
THE PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF TEXAS
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
Michael L. Gillette, President,
Philosophical Society of Texas
THE ART OF LEARNING
Ramona Treviño, chair
THE ART OF DISVOVERY
Mary Ann Rankin, chair
THE ART OF THE ARTS
Adair Margo, chair
THE ART OF EXPRESSION
Evan Smith, chair
Naomi Shihab Nye
Betty Sue Flowers, moderator
OFFICERS OF THE SOCIETY
MEMBERS OF THE SOCIETY
The inspiration for the 172nd anniversary meeting came from the Society’s 1948 program, “The Creative Arts in Texas,” which was organized by the Society’s first woman president, Miss Ima Hogg. Revisiting this topic, current president Michael L. Gillette put together “Creative Texas 2.0” to survey the state’s most significant and creative advances across a broader range of endeavors: education, the arts, writing, and science. The meeting was held in Austin, Texas at the new AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center and Hotel on the University of Texas campus. A total of 334 members, spouses, and guests were in attendance.
The meeting began on Friday December 4, 2009 with optional morning and afternoon tours. The mourning tour visited the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, the Petawatt Laboratory, and the Visualization Laboratory located on the University of Texas campus. The afternoon tour showcased the Texas State Capitol and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. The evening ended with a reception and dinner at the AT&T Conference Center. William C. Powers, Jr., President of the University of Texas at Austin, delivered the welcoming remarks.
President Gillette announced the eight new members and presented them with their certificates of membership. The new members were: Sharon Wilson Allison, Waco; Fernando A. Guerra, San Antonio; Herb Kelleher, Dallas; Nancy Cain Marcus, Dallas; W. Frank Newton, Beaumont; Gretchen Ritter, Austin; Chase G. Untermeyer, Houston; and Andrew C. von Eschenbach, Montgomery. Although there were seven openings, the Bylaws stipulate that vacancies are automatically filled in order of number of votes received by the candidates. In the case of a tie, the number of active members shall temporarily increase until natural attrition occurs, per the Bylaws. Because two candidates tied for the seventh place, there were eight new members this year.
The 2009 Award of Merit for the Best Book on Texas was given to Pekka Hämäläinen, for The Comanche Empire, Yale University Press, 2008. This award is given annually for the best book published on Texas, fiction or non-fiction.
A lively roundtable discussion took place on Saturday afternoon and was followed by a reception and dinner at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. After guests toured the museum galleries, they returned to the AT&T Conference Center for a special performance by Anne Akiko Meyers, a celebrated concert violinist. She was accompanied by Anne Epperson on the piano.
The annual business meeting was held on Sunday morning. The names of Society members who had died during the previous year were read: William Wayne Justice, Elmer Stephen Kelton, Lowell H. Lebermann, Jr., John Dean Moseley, and Dorman Hayward Winfrey. Secretary Ann Hamilton announced Society membership stood at 201 active members, 62 associate members, and 78 emeritus members for a total of 341 members. Officers elected for the year 2010 are as follows: J. Mark McLaughlin, president; Frances B. Vick, first vice-president; Jon H. Fleming, second vice-president; Harris L. Kempner Jr., treasurer; and Ann T. Hamilton, secretary. President Gillette adjourned the meeting until December 3–5, 2010, in San Angelo.
William C. Powers Jr.
President, The University of Texas at Austin
Welcome to the campus of the University of Texas. Welcome fellow members and new members of the Philosophical Society, spouses, friends, distinguished panelists, and special guests. The University is honored to host the 2009 meeting of the Philosophical Society, and to open our doors to you.
We are especially honored to have in our company Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. The Lieutenant Governor is a great friend of higher education in Texas, and we thank him for his leadership and support during these challenging economic times. I also want to acknowledge James Huffines, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. Thank you, James, for the tremendous work you’re doing to support and strengthen UT Austin and all of the component institutions of the University of Texas System. Thank you very much.
This meeting takes place on or near December 5th every year, which was the date when 26 political and intellectual Texas leaders first gathered at the capitol in Houston – on December 5th, 1837. The group included Mirabeau B. Lamar, Ashbel Smith, Sam Houston, and others whose names would become familiar to future Texans – Wharton, Rusk, Burnet, Bonnell. The founders wanted Texas to be a place as renowned for knowledge and wisdom as military courage. As they said in their charter, “Texas has her captains, let her have her wise men.”
And so this year, 172 years later, we gather as wise men and women to celebrate the progress we Texans have made in education, in the arts and literature, and in scientific discovery. Those 26 founders could not have imagined what we are celebrating this weekend. They may not have imagined
· a world-class university with 50,000 students,
· the Blanton Art Museum showcasing Renaissance and modern treasures,
· the Ransom Center filled with priceless collections,
· the Petawatt lab with the world’s highest laser power,
· and the Visualization lab producing all those remarkable images.
And they may not have imagined the amount of talent and creativity that tomorrow’s panelists represent. But they certainly hoped that a day would come when Texas represented the highest and most noble aspirations of the human spirit.
This is a remarkable gathering, and I am proud that it is taking place on our campus. I am proud that we could share with you some of the treasures of the University and equally proud that many of our teachers and graduates will be adding their voices to the conversation about “the creative arts in Texas.” Thank you all for being here tonight. And again, welcome to our campus.
MICHAEL L. GILLETTE
When Ima Hogg, the first woman president of this society, convened the 1948 meeting, she called on Radoslav Tsanoff to survey the status of the creative arts in Texas. If the topic selected was a response to the national media’s preoccupation with oilrich Texans while ignoring our cultural attainments, the program also addressed causes that were dear to Miss Ima’s heart. Indeed, she and other members of her family had been directly involved in many of Houston’s advances during the first half of the 20th century: the Symphony, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Texas Medical Center, to name a few.
Tsanoff was also deeply immersed in a variety of the state’s cultural activities since he joined the Rice faculty in 1914. In addition to the symphony and the Museum of Fine Arts, he held memberships in the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Folklore Society, and he was, of course, a member of the Philosophical Society. In his presentation, Tsanoff contrasted the state’s modest cultural and educational facilities during the century’s first decades with the wealth of institutions in the prosperous, more urban, post-war Texas. He cited an impressive inventory of progress: in science and edicine, in education, in the arts, and in the establishment of symphonies, theaters, art museums, and libraries.
But beyond the comparison, there are two striking features of Tsanoff’s presentation. The first was his plea for a regional artistic expression: in his words, “an emancipation from the set pattern of Broadway and Hollywood.”He invited his listeners to find in Texas life “a unique fountainsource of creative expression.” He believed that our museums should not become “small pocket editions” of the Met, but rather should showcase the artistic treasures of the Southwest. He also proposed a Texas literary and art magazine and an expansion of cultural arts festivals to recognize the talent of local composers and playwrights. His call for more funding for the arts and the artists is a refrain familiar to us today.
Tsanoff concluded his address with an egalitarian flourish, extolling art as the grace of common daily life:
“Art, science, philosophy, religion, these are not socially exclusive; they reach into the roots and heart of human life, and they reach to the summits of our daily hopes and apacities, Against the spurious culture of pedantry and snobbery, see the evidence of deep spiritual hunger, both hunger and sustenance, in the common life of men throughout the ages, Folksong and folklore and proverbs, sagas, myths, pageants, and dances are their seals of genius. And out of this vast source of creative life, new springs of genius are ever rising. They will rise more abundantly still when our social system becomes more enlightened, just, and humane to recognize them and to provide them full expression.”
His eloquent words remind us that, despite a half century of remarkable advances, a world of promise went unfulfilled in his day. It was in 1948, after all, that Dr. Hector Garcia had to organize the American G.I. Forum to secure the medical and educational rights of Latino veterans returning from World War II. And Heman Sweatt had spent the two preceding years in the courthouse that now bears his name, fighting to gain admission to this university’s segregated law school.
So, as we explore innovation in education, science, the arts, and writing in our own era, we are mindful that history will weigh not only the challenges we meet, but also those we neglect. We also recognize that challenges create opportunities and that creativity is often born of necessity. What are some of the successful strategies that our schools are devising as they grapple with complex problems extending far beyond the classroom? How is our state’s great diversity affecting learning, literature, and the arts? Will science and public policy find solutions to the environmental challenges fueled by the last century’s technological innovations? As technology revolutionizes the forms of verbal communication, how will itscontent change? And how will this change transform our society?
To address today’s update of the 1948 program, our planning ommittee has enlisted some of the state’s most creative minds and compelling voices. We hope that the discussion will inspire a robust conversation in this afternoon’s roundtable and that your voices will enrich and extend the dialogue.
SUSAN LANDRY, MICHAEL FEINBERG, NANCY WEISSKOPF
Dr. Treviño: I am proud to be Founding Principal/CEO of the University of Texas Elementary School, Home of the Littlest Longhorns! Special thanks to Michael Gillette and the organizers of this event for inviting me and the esteemed team of educators joining me for this session: Dr. Susan Landry, Mike Fienberg, and Nancy Weisskopf. We are certain that you put the education piece first because you know it is most important. Or maybe because you know educators are used to getting up so early?
We are grateful for the ongoing work that Humanities Texas has done to improve public education. I had to laugh when Michael and I were exchanging e-mails about what to talk about related to learning because all I could say was: “Well it’s the Philosophical Society….say something really wise and philosophical.” So, I thought I would start with a few wise words regarding learning from a book of Chinese proverbs:
Learning is like rowing upstream…not to advance is to drop back. Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.
Our hope today is to get to the heart of what we believe is truly the “art of learning.” What we know is that learning is constant and has no limits. We all agree that learning occurs at all levels and all ages, but today our focus will be on public education. We will address issues and personal success stories ranging from school readiness to school choice to changes and movements in education and the need for reform.
I am going to begin by talking about my favorite topic, UT Elementary! At UTES our motto is, “Teaching to the Spirit of Every Child.” As the first university sponsored charter school in Texas, our mission is to develop our population of low-income children of color into life-long learners and college bound students. We were created to serve as a model program for diverse populations in urban settings. We demonstrate research-based practice, provide opportunities for pre-service teachers at the university and professional development and outreach to the larger education community. From the moment we opened our doors in August of 2003, I have been overwhelmed by the grand nature of our school’s mission and the divine nature of those who have come our way in support of this mission.
I am happy to say that we have exceeded expectations in a few short years and are currently rated “Exemplary” by the Texas Education Agency. There are many to thank for this, some in this room! In my work I cannot stress enough the power of community working toward a unified mission.
In creating this new educational organization, the University of Texas has sent a strong message of the importance of social equity and the critical role of education. They have given our students’ parents hope of a better future for their children. They have validated the need to create models of change. It truly takes a village to raise a child; the Little Longhorns are lucky to be included in the UT village.
The school was created due to three significant institutional initiatives: esearched-based reading, the P-16 initiative, and the founders’ vision regarding charter schools. The school is a small, open-enrollment elementary charter school, free to students, with a lottery-based admission system, and designed to serve pre-kindergarten through grade five. It opened to serve a diverse population of students in east Austin with a demographic of 80 percent economically disadvantaged, 75 percent Hispanic, and 24 percent African-American, using a full, state-aligned curriculum. The school model that resulted at the elementary school has four essential components: strong leadership, a balance of efficiency and humanity, democratic dialogue and strategic planning, and caring and respect. These components have been key to my research and will be the focus of my time with you.
Role of Leadership: As an administrator it is essential to believe in academic success for all students and their families, no matter their economic situation, and to hire highly qualified teachers. The principal must have a clear vision and inspire, encourage, and set the stage for greatness and success for all. Core to my philosophy of school leadership is the ability to create unity of purpose and to empower the school community through responsibility and building from strengths. It is also important to create systems of effective communication and decision-making to promote democratic planning.
Teaching and learning must be of the highest priority, with data analysis, strategic planning, and parent outreach essential components when addressing achievement. Full participation from the staff and community in events, celebrations, forums for dialogue, decision-making, and campus planning must be expected. As the principal, I am intent on bringing pride and distinction to the school and its membership.
Leadership defines culture and culture defines leadership. An important 10 the philosophical society of texas aspect of leadership is listening and being in tune with the concerns of all participants. Group ideology is formed by the way critical events are managed. These understandings become group values and are passed on to new members and group identity takes shape. It is an important skill in school leadership to be able to balance the equilibrium of the organization and successfully articulate and constantly demonstrate the core values of the school culture. It is important for leaders to build staff capacity for school leadership from within, so that if the leader or key staff members leave, the school will not be adrift.
Balancing Efficiency and Humanity: My research indicates that schools must work to achieve a balance of efficient systems and high expectations for performance within the cultural and human side of schooling. Efficient systems and proven best practices are essential, but schools must also create a culture of respect, caring, and dialogue. Student academic achievement is the reason that efficient systems must exist in public schools, but social and emotional development must be supported as well to cultivate a readiness to learn.
UTES was established as a research-based demonstration school and has a track record of success in serving inner-city children who are mostly minority and low-income. One powerful method used is Response to Intervention (RtI), which prescribes early and frequent assessment of each student and allows for prompt identification of learning difficulties and concepts that need reinforcement. RtI is an instructional framework which allows teachers to analyze individual student’s learning needs and to respond quickly with specific resources and strategies. A second method used is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) which is designed to promote skills needed to be productive in the workforce: respect, problem solving, empathy, communication, and team-work within the elementary classroom. These concepts are essential in any school, but especially those schools in poverty areas.
Caring and Respect: Researcher Nel Noddings says that the main aim of education should be a moral one, nurturing the growth of competent, caring students. All children should learn to care for themselves, others, animals, plants, and all things on our shared earth. As humans, we need to be cared for by being understood, received, respected, and recognized, and, in turn, learn to be caring. Good teaching requires the development of relationships over time. Modeling caring behavior and directly teaching caring for one another puts the human dimension back into education. “Students want to know that you care before they care to know what you know.” Supporting the whole child is a value of the UTES community, and caring and relating to others is important to the model. As a community, children are reminded that they are valued and therefore are more confident learners. Maslow teaches us that self-esteem is developed when people feel loved and cared-for, and this is the basis for children to reach their highest potential and become self-actualized.
Parental Engagement and Communicating Cultural Values: At UTES there are dozens of regular activities that support and reinforce the school’s culture. One favorite at UTES is the morning assembly where the entire student body meets with the teachers and administration, along with many parents, to start the day on a positive note. This is significant in contributing to our school culture.
For example, when a new baby is born to a family, the baby is presented at morning assembly and given a baby longhorn bib and a book. The importance of reading is reinforced as the child is welcomed and honored by the school community as a “Baby Bevo” and future member of the school community. This celebration for new life in the community demonstrates the school’s respect for the family and the emphasis on early literacy.
I have heard stories from many parents of color how school was not always a positive experience for them. Though most schools have an expectation for parental engagement, not all parents know how to achieve this. At UTES we consciously take on the job of teaching Moms, Dads, Grandmas, and Grandpas how to be successful supporters of a student. We define for the students and their parents what it means to be a “student.” Explicitly defining this and coaching parents in parenting a schoolaged child has enhanced the school’s level of parent participation.
In order for parents to want to come to school and be part of the community, they need to feel welcomed. All parents, no matter what culture or class, should be made to feel that they are contributors and that the school is an important part of their community. I have not met a parent in my 25 year-career that did not love his or her child or want to see them succeed. Traditional methods of including parents, such as school newsletters, class newsletters, websites, and PTA meetings, are usually about communication, not as much about engagement.
At UTES we believe that the school community can only be defined by the total of its participants. All parents must be trusted to help make the school a better place for their children. To accomplish this, there must be forums or easy access to the principal, staff, or decision-making bodies. Drawing good suggestions and demonstrating that parents’ ideas can contribute to the school by following through is a powerful means to engage parents.
Democratic Dialogue: Collaboration builds stronger professional confidence and contributes to the ability to initiate and respond to change. The most effective practice for team-learning emerges from dialogue. The goal is to establish a “container” for inquiry or a setting where people can become more aware of the context around their experiences. Allowing time and space to dialogue among teachers is often their best learning experience, and allows them to see that it is important for their students. Forums for problem-solving must be established. These should be open meetings for people affected by problems where they are invited to listen to all sides of the issue before exploring ideas and solutions. Contributions should be respected and valued, and consensus built. Collaborative conversation is the soul of self-managing teams and democratic organizations in which values emerge and problems are solved as a school culture is developed. My closing thought is that public education needs a re-alignment. It needs to find balance. I am a firm supporter of accountability and know it was necessary for us to create efficient systems for data gathering to assure student achievement. But what I see is that we are out of balance in our efforts to adopt a strict business approach to schooling. I am sure many of you in this room review the data on your stock portfolios to assure gains and productivity. This is important to validate investments. What we must not lose sight of is the human side of schooling. Our product is productive human beings who must be prepared with twenty-first century skills, such as problem solving, communication, and team-building. It is my opinion that efficiency and humanity must be tightly coupled and well-balanced to assure successful schools.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Success is to laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children.” For those of you who have contributed in any way to schools, you indeed have had a successful journey in this life. We thank you for leaving the world a bit better.
I now want to introduce Dr. Susan Landry, One of the first things I did in starting up the school was to visit Dr. Landry in Houston and to adopt her, at that time, Texas Early Education Model. We are very lucky to hear her speak today.
• • •
I’m going to take you on a very, very fast journey from the beginning to where are now with the Texas Early Education Model, which now in its first year of major scale-up in Texas, is referred to as Texas School Ready Program.
It’s critically important that we get this right in Texas because we have one of the fastest growing populations of children, and that in 2040 our public schools will double in size. We have a large number of children in poverty, at least 22 percent, which is very conservative and investing in early childhood education is a good investment. There have been many strong studies that show we at least get a $3 return for every dollar we invest in it.
We’ve been very lucky in Texas because legislators have recognized the need for this and the importance of it and have paid a lot of attention to it. So I’m going to talk to you about what’s happened since a legislative mandate in 2003 was given to the Children’s Learning Institute, which houses the State Center for Early Childhood for Texas, to get early childhood programs at high quality and be sure children are prepared for kindergarten.
What’s unusual about the approach we took compared to many other states is that it was completely informed by large research efficacy studies. Before we brought programs to Texas and asked you to invest in them, we made sure we knew what worked and what wouldn’t work. A number of people feel that we’ve gone from only focusing on social/emotional selfregulation behaviors for young children to now realizing how critically important it is that children are academically prepared. That preparation is not accomplished in a drill-and-kill rote or by bringing structured classroom activities into early childhood programs, but by being sure they’re exposed to all sorts of activities that give them knowledge about science, math, early literacy, and strong language concepts. So we have finally had, I think, a complete paradigm shift in the last decade that gets us to the point that we understand how critical that brain development is in the early years and we cannot ignore the cognitive areas.
There’s also been a shift in the way we think about policy discussions in this area from just focusing on how much education a teacher should have, how long the day should be, and what the teacher-child ration should be, to really getting down to what should the educational experiences be for these children and what should teachers have to be sure they can prepare children adequately.
This is what we know we need to get our children skilled and to be ready for kindergarten. The National Early Literacy Panel shows in their recent report that phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and language concepts are the three critical predictors in early childhood of children being successful in reading once they reach elementary school. We want them to have this early literacy and language exposure, we want them to develop an appreciation of books, we want them to be confident and socially engaged, and we want them to have very strong language skills so they have good background knowledge and the ability to communicate with everyone.
We took an approach where we basically developed a recipe for what the research and the conceptual/philosophical beliefs were that informed a good model of early childhood education. We have six key ingredients in our recipe.
The first, and I think one of the most critically important, is a responsive interaction style. Ramona talked a little bit about this. This is what teachers need to be aware of when they interact with the children in their classrooms. This includes a number of behaviors that I’ll tell you about in a second.
Content that comes from strong training for teachers.
Curriculum planning that takes advantage of how children develop in their brains, memories and concepts.
A balance of teaching strategies. In this paradigm shift we’ve moved from just thinking that children should play and discover everything they know on their own, to letting them explore, but also have an emphasis on intentional instructional activities in the classroom.
Flexible groupings and monitoring children’s behavior to take advantage of teachable moments.
In the work I’ve done in studying interactions with children in a very large NIH-funded study, we found that when this core group of responsive interaction behaviors was at relatively high levels for very low-income children, we saw normal development by entry into kindergarten. And that includes rich language input which doesn’t happen for the majority of low-income families. Only one-quarter of our 350 families provided this kind of stimulation.
Rich language input means children hear names of objects, actions, relations between things. Many children are not hearing this; they’re hearing what we refer to as empty language. They hear a lot of phrases like “Do it,” “What’s that?” “Bring it here.” Not rich vocabulary.
Responsiveness to their signals in ways that are contingent on what the child is signaling they need and that are prompt gives the child a sense of being valued and understood. This begins a cycle. And when teachers do this, behavior problems disappear. There is no great need for all sorts of focus on preventing behavior problems. This is the key: maintaining and building on their interests, avoiding a lot of restrictiveness that shuts them down, providing choices so they can learn to make decisions and regulate their own behavior, and monitoring their behavior closely.
So we take that core group of responsive behaviors, and we add it to content. And then we’re going to add planning in the classroom that builds memories, a balance of teaching approaches, both intentional and child-exploratory, and a variety of groupings.
So first we add the content, three keys for reading success. First is oral language development. Next is phonological awareness, which is not reading, but is learning to hear and play with sounds. It’s all auditory, not visual, and is the foundation for children being able then to read. Then, there is print knowledge—knowing the alphabet, recognizing letters, and sound-letter relations.
We’re beginning to know quite a bit more about math and young children and that it actually begins in infancy. We have a lot of wonderful infant studies showing that babies can add and subtract. I know that’s hard to believe, but there’s some good research demonstrating it. So there’s been a very strong focus recently, really in just about the past three years, to bring this core group of math activities into children’s classroom activities.
And then, of course, the social/emotional areas. A decade ago in our state, as well as across the country, the major belief was if we brought the literacy-language-math-science into the classroom, all of this would be compromised, children would be completely stunted in their development of social/emotional skills. In fact, the exact opposite is true; if you bring the engaging things into the classroom in the cognitive areas, it enhances these areas of development, and we have data to show that. So we have this responsive style of behaviors and it is supporting the learning; it’s scaffolding the child’s ability to learn the content.
Then we look at planning. I think is one of the most critical things because our low-income children enter their pre-K year as three- or fouryear-olds usually nine to twelve months behind in their development of cognitive and social skills. If they have a nine-month school year and they develop, as we typically think, one month for each one month of school, where are they the summer before kindergarten? They’re nine months behind. So we have to get two months of development for every area that they need to be skilled in for every one month of their life in that school classroom. It has to be very smartly done and planning is the key.
There’s a wonderful concept in the neurosciences in infancy and early childhood work called “time windows.” It means the child hears something—a word, a concept—and if they are exposed to it in a rich and engaging way, synapses, dendrites, all those things in the brain, start activating and a memory or concept starts to develop. And if they hear it again within a short amount of time, an hour later in a different activity, and again and again across the week, it really develops into a memory. Then they have it; it’s part of their repertoire.
But if they don’t hear it again and have it expanded on and built on, they lose it; they lose it very quickly. And so the teacher is working very hard, but not very smart if she doesn’t use this technique to get things to develop for the child. So we train teachers to build their day in ways that build memories and we train them to develop and set up the room in ways that help children develop these solid, strong concepts.
We want to balance what we ask of children. Can you imagine learning everything you ever learned by exploring yourself and no one telling you, teaching you, instructing you. It’s just really impossible. We’re missing the boat if we don’t have intentional direct instruction and we balance it with child exploration. Then we know very strongly that it’s not just about large group work; we have to individualize this instruction.
Then we add, to those five things, assessment—not assessment for assessment’s sake, but teachers doing it and getting resources to help them do it that inform their understanding of children’s learning and what to do next.
So we put all of this together into a package. We developed a PDA-driven assessment approach where the teacher assesses vocabulary, phonological, math, letter knowledge, and social skills. And she gets immediate feedback with a report when she syncs it into the computer about how to group children, what activities to do with them, and where to move them next.
We use curriculum and a web-based 100-plus-hour professional development program that’s done in courses with about 15 to 20 teachers working together. They have a license to bring this up any time that they want to revisit it and post their activities and experiences with their learning network. This is a web-based program in nine separate courses, and we’re linking this with college credits. The PDA, which now is on a laptop, a netbook, and a notebook, is being used all over the state.
We tested this out in four different places in the United States, including Corpus Christi. We randomized, gold-standard approach, those different aspects of the program, so we have a professional development group times four against a business-as-usual, no-internet professional development course. Then we paired a PDA with one of the groups, a pencil-paper with another group where they didn’t get feedback, a mentor, and a no-mentor. The winner, after assessing almost 1,800 children, preand post-, across these cities and towns, and the teachers on all these areas of their instructional practices, was always the complete package.
In everything we looked at, the professional development program with the mentor, with the PDA giving feedback, gave us not just moderate but very large-effect sizes. We did not have any side effects in spite of having childcare teachers non-degreed in Miami, four-year degreed teachers in Prince George County, a balance of all types of backgrounds in Corpus, and only two-year certificates in Ohio. So we have what the legislators asked us to do, a model.
In Texas we really need the PDA and we need the progress monitoring that gives feedback, we need the mentor, and we need the professional development.
And in Texas we started with this many programs, tested it again, got very strong similar results, and now, because I’ve got to scoot ahead we have gone from 200 classrooms in ’03 in a random assignment study to 38 communities serving 82,000 children this fall. They all get these resources and they’re all getting kids ready for school. Thank you.
And now I have the great pleasure of introducing Mike Feinberg, the head and founder of KIPP. You’re in store for a great treat.
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Good morning. First off, thanks to Michael Gillette for inviting me here. I think there are certainly several supporters in the room of KIPP, of what we’ve been doing the last fifteen years, so thank you to all of you as well. One quick disclaimer: as I get into talking about the history of KIPP, realize it does create severe hair loss, so I warn you on the front end about that.
Given that this is the Philosophical Society, I thought I would open upwith a couple of stories, not directly about KIPP, but that relate to what we’ve been doing and what we’re trying to prove here across the state, across the country. The first has to do with this picture up here which is one of my new favorite pictures, Norm Atkins of Uncommon Schools gave it to me two years ago. This is the 1924 Tour de France, and in case you can’t see well what’s going on, one of the cyclists is lighting the cigarette of another cyclist. (figure 2)
I don’t need to let that sink in. Apparently eighty years ago they thought that smoking, beyond being okay for you, helped athletic performance. I’ve talked to doctors about this to understand what the thinking was and the theory was that smoking somehow thinned out the blood. The blood would travel around the body faster, delivering oxygen to the muscles, so therefore, when you were training for the most difficult athletic contest in world history, you had to bring along a few extra packs of Camels.
Talk about a complete 180-degree mind shift in thinking and beliefs in the last eighty years, from smoking is not just okay for you, it helps you, to the way we think about smoking today. Now, too many of our young kids are starting to smoke again, but they’re not doing it because they think it’s going to help them; they just think they’re being cool. But if that mind shift can happen in smoking, why can’t that same mind shift happen in public education?
The framing question I’m going to put to you to start talking about KIPP is to think about if we could somehow snap a picture in 2009 of the way we’re delivering public education to the masses and we put that picture up on the wall eighty years from now. I bet they would be chuckling at that picture as well. Here’s our chance to think about that and start to figure out how to do something about it.
My next story, which I always like to begin with as I talk about KIPP, is about the Masai, a tribe in Africa. They have a great ritual when their warriors are traveling between their villages: the way they greet each other. “Hello, good morning,” the first warrior to the second warrior, and asks, “And how are the children?” The second warrior will respond, “All the children are well.” I love that. It’s the right focus, the right expectations of a society. It’s the focus on the well-being of the children, the expectation of the well-being of all the children, and something they’ve built into the fabric of what they do fifty times a day: “Hello, how are you doing, and how are the children; all the children are well.”
If we ask that question here in Texas and in our country, how are our children, the answer would be some are doing just fine. But the brutal fact is not nearly enough, and that’s what Dave Levin and I discovered when we became Teach for America Corps members back in 1992, placed in Houston. Houston ISD made me a bilingual 5th grade teacher. Why bilingual I’m not sure, but I had a pulse.
Like all first-year teachers, we struggled, but we latched on to great teachers. We thought we were doing a good job. This is going to give a really quick version of KIPP. We got very frustrated when we realized it didn’t matter how good of a job we were doing with our babies in our classroom; they were going off to middle schools and high schools where very quickly they were joining gangs, skipping class, doing drugs, and becoming parents at alarming rates.
It was very easy to do a lot of this until one day we realized this is what we had to do, because all the finger-pointing and blaming the other schools and blaming society and blaming the community was just contributing to the problem; that was outside of our sphere of influence. We realized we had the kids for a whole year and we needed to set them up not to go survive, but thrive. We didn’t give them all the academic skills, all the intellectual skills, all the character skills needed to go off and do well in middle school, high school, college, the competitive world beyond, and that was definitely a much higher bar than just passing a TAAS test back then—or a TAKS test today.
Realizing we did have the kids for a whole year, there was something within our sphere of influence we could do. So back in 1994 we started the Knowledge Is Power Program, KIPP, in just 5th grade. It evolved the next year into a school in Houston ISD, plus a school in the South Bronx, New York, with 5th grade. We grew it up to the 5th through 8th grade years and we started replicating it in 2000. Today, KIPP is this network of 82 public schools, mostly charter schools, across the country in 19 states and D.C., serving 21,000 kids this year, pre-K through 12th grade.
The ultimate scoreboard for us is not state tests; it’s where the kids go after they leave us in life. In Houston, our alumni which are the oldest alumni we’ve had, hit the 90-90 plateau: 90 percent of our kids being on free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs, so low income, now 90 percent of them are going to college. That’s a lot higher than the 15 to 20 percent that go to college in neighborhoods we serve, so I’m looking to improve. We’ll never be perfect, but I at least want body temperature, I want 98.6, and so we have some work to do as well.
I will back up a little bit to talk about the lessons learned from what we’re doing. It ties into why we started to replicate. When we got up to our original two schools, in Houston in the southwest part of town and in the South Bronx, we had these two schools within the district that became state charter schools with the support, actually, of the district at the time. We weren’t trying to replicate. We just had our heads down trying to realize that we made some sacred promises to the kids who chose to come to our school, and thinking about what we were doing to make good on those promises and get them to and through college.
Back in 1999, “60 Minutes” did a piece on the KIPP schools, and the day after that program aired, the floodgates opened up. I’m running around the office in Houston the day after it aired, doing the typical things a school leader does; fifty things at once. The phone rings; I pick it up. It’s a district client from California. All I hear on the phone is, “Mike, we saw that program on TV last night; we want to order 15 KIPPs for next year, please.” I stopped, I looked up like, did you watch? “Let me go check inventory and I’ll ship C.O.D., ship them right out.”
Unfortunately, in education we fall into one of the traps where everything becomes the flavor of the month, the flavor of the year, the buzzwords. KIPP was becoming the flavor of the month, maybe the flavor of the year. And there’s a problem with that, but there’s also an opportunity in that people stop viewing our work as some crazy stuff that two young, crazy white guys were doing and thought maybe there was some method to the madness of what we were doing that could be of use to others. And being Teach for America alumni and believing in the TFA mission of one day all children in this nation attaining an excellent education, we started thinking: what can we do to leverage the success of this little tiny school in Houston and this little tiny school in New York to the greater good?
We got in touch with Don and Doris Fisher, the founders of the Gap and Old Navy in San Francisco, and collectively we formed a new foundation in 2000. For lack of a better name, we called it the KIPP Foundation. I wanted to call it the “No Shortcuts Foundation,” but Don knows more about brand names than I do. He said call it KIPP, and we said, “Yes, sir.” And so the KIPP Foundation 2000 started replicating and the way we did that was the critical path of the school leader. We decided to scour the country for amazing educators and train them for a year in how to plan, open, and run their own KIPP-like school and the key word there is KIPPlike. We weren’t going to create the 800-page manual where on December 8 you open up to page 312 and follow the script. We realized that wasn’t why the schools in Houston and New York had worked.
We began to realize there were five pillars that made a school a KIPPlike school, and that’s what we wanted to replicate. That’s what we tried to prove should be in place in all of our schools—traditional, public, charter, private I don’t care what—to set them up for success,
Our first pillar is more time on task every day, every week, and every year. A KIPP school day goes from 7:30 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon, plus four hours on Saturdays, plus an extra month in the summer. We give two or three hours of homework every single night. We don’t fool around. You need that time on the clock.
Take the typical school day in this country: 8:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, seven hours, but look at that time. Take out lunch; take out recess; take out bathroom breaks; take out fluffy ancillary periods, good ancillary periods. We’re down to four, maybe five hours of instruction a day, at most. Even that’s starting to shrink. It’s at most for 180 days a year, and that’s now starting to shrink. So four to five hours a day for less than half the year. In that kind of time we’re not asking teachers and principals to be great; we’re asking them to be miracle workers. More time doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least sets people up for success, which is why that’s our first pillar.
Our second pillar is the power to lead: the fact that there’s a great, well- trained school leader in place with the shackles off so they truly have the power to lead. That’s why I like calling heads of schools school leaders, not principals. Too many principals don’t have the power to lead. They’re not leaders; they’re store managers. The power to lead means you have control over staff and budget. You can choose who teaches in your building; you can choose who does not teach in your building. You allocate your budget dollars according to how you see fit. In exchange for all that freedom, you now are held accountable.
What that does is you get rid of shoulder shrug. Too many principals today that are not truly school leaders. When you tell them AYP, No Child Left Behind. “We’re going to hold you accountable for great results,” you get the shoulder shrug. You get the “You’ve got to be kidding me. A third of the teachers in this building are not doing a good job, but I can’t get rid of them. The good teachers I want to get I can’t through the HR department, and God forbid I want to move my computer money bucket to my art money bucket because I think that’s going to help instruction. I have to fill out forms in triplicate and give up my first-born. And you expect me to get great results?”
So the way you get rid of that shoulder shrug is to free it up. You choose who you’re going to hire; you choose who should leave the building. You do some good career counseling; you choose how to allocate your budget dollars. Now in exchange for that freedom we’re going to hold you accountable for great results. That’s power to lead.
Embedded in power to lead is also the human power. We keep looking for shortcuts in this country and the most important resource of all is the human resource, but we lose sight of that as society. Let me do a quick survey with you guys in the room to illustrate that. Imagine you have two classrooms up here. You’re deciding which one you’re going to put your own child into. The classroom over to the left doesn’t have a bad teacher. It has an average teacher and it has everything you could want. It’s an amazing classroom. There are computers in there, science equipment, reading books, math manipulatives and everything over here. The classroom over to the right is a bare room, not even desks, but there’s a master teacher. Where do you put your own child? This is the interactive part of my talk.
What does everyone tell me: master teacher, Right? We know that instinctively for ourselves, but as a society we’ve got group think going. We forget people make the difference; we forget there are no shortcuts. We start thinking what little gizmo can we invent to squeeze it into this classroom over here to magically transform it from bad to okay, from okay to good? We live in the microwave generation. We want things quick and now, and that makes sense when you’re cooking popcorn. As Susan points out, it doesn’t make sense when you’re teaching children how to lead.
We have to go back to the basics. We realize we need to be investing in the most important resource of all which is the human resource. Beyond more time, one policy at the state level and the federal level is eliminating the barriers, so great people can come into the profession as teachers and leaders.
We had the honor of hosting Bill and Melinda Gates at the mother ship KIPP school in Houston last year, and one thing that Bill and I talked about was that if he chose tomorrow to go in to high school and teach economics or computer science, he couldn’t because he’s not highly qualified. So there’s something wrong about the way we interpret. I mean, I get where we’re going, but highly qualified has turned into highly certified. We have to change the definition to highly effective, and that’s the type of people we need to be recruiting into our schools.
Our next pillar is high expectations which are clearly defined and observable. For us that’s college prep, not just at high school, not just at middle school, not just at elementary, but even at pre-K. My pre-K threeyear- olds this year, they are the class of 2024; they know they’re the class of 2024. They’re still learning how to count with Susan’s help to 2024, but that’s what they know. And their teachers know it too. When the teachers are lesson-planning, they’re thinking they’ve got to get the kids to learn their letters so by the end of kindergarten they’re reading, so by the end of elementary school they’re reading chapter books, so by the end of middle school they’re reading textbooks with understanding, so by the end of high school they’re independent learners, so by 2024 when they’re studying their college freshman English seminar class, they’re set for success. That’s high expectations.
Our next pillar is great results which are measurable. While the ultimate goal is getting our kids to and through college, it is what we do daily, weekly, monthly, annually to measure the progress to make sure that growth is happening at the right pace to get them where we want them to be.
And our last pillar is choice and commitment. As public charter schools, we need to break up the monopoly; we need to break up the fact that lowincome families should have choices in where they go to school in communities. Right now traditional public schools are very accountable to the state and federal government and their districts with great, great results, but they don’t feel accountable to the most important group they should feel accountable to which are the kids and families who are their customers. So what if you eliminate the zones and you give low-income families a true choice: do I go to this school down the block or this school down the block? The schools now have to look at that and think what are we doing to convince the kids and families to come to our school and what are we doing to make sure the day is so enjoyable and so full of learning they’ll keep coming back for more?
Well, that’s kind of like our theory of change. We want to have the same effect on the public education system the way FedEx affected the Post Office. When FedEx got the 10 percent market share, that’s when the U.S. Post Office, a government monopoly at the time, started doing next-day air. We believe a similar tipping point is in public education, which is why in places like Houston we’re trying to grow to 10 percent, which is a pretty audacious goal in Houston with 42 schools, 21,000 kids. At that size we feel not only can we hopefully grow and maintain quality and that we’re doing a good job with our kids, but we’re going to push the school system to do a great job with their kids as well.
We think if you put those five pillars in place: the more time, the choice of commitment, the power to lead, the high expectations, and the great results, kids are going to knock it out of the park. We’re on a mission to prove that because we deal with too many of the “yes, buts…”
Many people come to our schools and at first are cynical and think we succeed because we recruit really smart, poor kids, but they realize that’s not true. Then they get inspired and they see this is a really good school and I’m at the door with them and I hear, “Mike, this is great; this is one of the best schools I’ve seen.” And then you start to hear all these “yes, buts…” “But it can’t work where I’m from; it can’t work in Newark, it can’t work in the Mississippi Delta; it can’t work in Los Angeles.” You hear wherever they’re from, for whatever reasons—financial reasons, legal reasons, socioeconomic reasons—they think their community is the most screwed-up place on the planet.
I ’ve had enough visitors to realize that there are about 500 communities that all think they’re in the running for the title of the most screwedup place on the planet. I can’t win that debate at the door, so when I hear people say, “This is great, but it can’t work in Newark, Mississippi Delta, Los Angeles,” I get out my notes. I write down that we have to start schools in Newark, Mississippi Delta, Los Angeles because the actual proof is the possible. We need to change people’s beliefs and mindsets like we did up here; that’s the critical path to truly getting going on education reform so that someday we, like the Masai, can also say, “All our children are well. Thank you very much.”
And now, it’s an honor, I can’t wait to hear her talk. We have Nancy Weisskopf from South Hills High School in Fort Worth ISD, with a fantastic story about turnaround schools. We know that Secretary Duncan has put the challenge out there for 5,000 schools to be turned around in the next several years. Hopefully, the other 4,999 can learn from Nancy. Ladies and gentlemen: Nancy Weisskopf.
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Good morning. I am not a researcher; I am not anything but a practitioner and a teacher. I’m sorry; I have a hard time with a podium. But I’m a Yankee with a big voice, so hopefully that will help out. If you have trouble hearing, give me a little wave and I will make my way back to the podium.
I was definitely very intrigued when my superintendent called me upand said, “Nancy, we need you to go down and talk to the Philosophical Society of Texas.” And I said, “Why me?” And she said, “Well, because you’re the one who’s doing what we need to get done.” I had a hard time swallowing that. I said, “I’m just a practitioner, I’m just a principal in one school trying to make a difference with one group of kids.”
Today I want to teach you a little bit about the challenge that we have in urban education. It’s a big mystery to a lot of people but not to me. So I want to show you some of what we’re dealing with. Many urban high schools, not only in Texas, but across our nation, are struggling and the question seems to be “Why?” Schools in the past were very successful, so why are we starting to struggle now? There have been some legislative changes that are good changes. We all know that what doesn’t get monitored doesn’t get done, so accountability is a key to helping us change.
Accountability is a great thing; however, accountability was put in place with elementary schools; initially in math and reading. So the huge focus in urban elementary schools was on math and reading only. Unfortunately, we forgot about science a little bit. Now we’re paying the price in high school. We have students that weren’t seeing science in the early years until their achievement in science was measured. So what’s measured gets done. Science wasn’t measured and wasn’t getting done as well.
We’re also starting to face some other challenges. It was my first year in a very low-performing high school last year and you’re going to hear about that in a minute. I was pulled from my building 20 days out of our 180 days with students to go meet with people and justify and explain what I was doing. That took me away from my kids and my teachers, so we struggled. They needed that information; we need the accountability, but it also creates some issues in some urban schools.
We have a very high at-risk population. My population is over 90 percent minority, 75 percent are on free lunch, and another 15 percent are on reduced lunch. They are in the lowest socio-economic group. Many of them are from broken homes. I have homeless students. If you have seen “The Blind Side,” my new favorite movie, you will understand when I say that I can only wish that some of my homeless students were in that boy’s situation. So it is very high at-risk. It’s very hard for students to pay attention to school when they’re worried about what they’re going to eat next or where they’re going to sleep that night, but it’s a challenge we take on.
They’re also very mobile. I had a gentleman in my office yesterday morning whom I was trying to help. He’s just turned 18. He’s been in seven high schools in the past year because his mom is constantly moving. Not just seven different high schools, but seven different districts around our state. Because of all that movement and going a week or two in between each school because they don’t know where they’re going to land, he’s fallen way short on credits and only has the credits of a 9th grader. So I was trying to come up with a plan on how he could graduate before he turns 23! It was a situation he didn’t have control over.
I’m a former algebra teacher and I always heard from students and parents. “It’s okay you didn’t do well in math; I was never good at math either.” That’s very, very common. If we had poor grammar, it would be horrible. Every so often I have a slip of the tongue because I’m a mathematician, not a grammarian, and we just call them Nancy-isms and move on. However, in our society, if someone is not good at math, it’s kind of okay; we excuse that. Well, what message does that send to students? By the time they get to high school, they’ve heard it a couple of times; they automatically turn their brains off when they walk into math class. “I don’t have to do good in this one. It’s okay, they understand.” It’s difficult for us to overcome that negativity.
The biggest impact currently is the digital revolution. Just as we went through an industrial revolution, our digital revolution and what’s going on right now is changing education in ways that we don’t have answers to yet. It’s fascinating research. Students now are so digital that they can take in so much at once, it blows our minds. I’ve done some animation in here you’ll see as you go because our students process that much. To me, I will look away because that’s overload to me, but I wanted you to have that experience because they process that quickly; they actually need all of that digital, all of that extra.
Over the past 18 years, for my typical senior, things have changed dramatically. Eighteen years ago children were still the remote control for their parents. Right? You’d go up and change it. And it was a two-dimensional world on TV. Now it’s three-dimensional. Children have grown up from a very early age being able to manipulate the screen and what happens on it. That actually has done things to their brains and brain pathways that are fascinating.
Cell phones, actually not even 18 years ago, were bricks and big huge things. Now we’re down to where they’re tiny and we can check the internet and go all over the world. My pastor jokes that he doesn’t want to get a cell phone, so he just carries around his garage door opener so it looks like he has a cell phone because it is socially acceptable that you have to have a cell phone now. Right? So garage door opener, cell phone, things have changed dramatically.
What does that mean to students today? There’s a blog site out called “The Committed Sardine” with Ian Jukes who has pulled together a lot of the latest research on brain mapping that’s affecting us at secondary. We’ve very recently been able to do brain mapping, and it’s absolutely astonishing. Students actually learn differently. If they mapped the brains of my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and me as we did our math problems, our maps would look very, very, similar despite the difference in time. However, if I sat down with one of my freshmen and we did an algebra problem and they mapped our brain waves and our pathways, our maps would look drastically different. And that’s a phenomenon that we’re still trying to understand and trying to understand the implications for teaching and learning.
Figure 3. Students are digital natives.
We’re starting to learn a lot more about “digital natives,” and how adults have to talk to them, because we’re digital immigrants. We have learned technology as it has come out; they have known nothing but three-dimensional and interactive. So we have to learn to do sensory overload because sensory overload actually helps them learn, which is fascinating to me because I still need quiet space to study.
We actually read differently. As we watch eye scans, this is a typical what-we-would-looklike when we scan a page or we are trying to read for information if we were in high school today. Do a zig-zag, we go up and start at the left and kind of go back and forth. This is current students. You’ll see that their eye scans are what they call the F, they go up the left and go left to right a little bit, but right on the top; very little ever pulls them down to the bottom right. We’re also learning that their eye scan will focus on color.We’re very used to black and white text; students actually react better to red, pink and orange text. It blows my mind because when they turn in a paper in pink. I have a hard time reading it. They love it; it helps them.
So, we adjust, we adapt, and we’re moving forward with some of this and just keeping up with the research. I’ve shown this to my teachers and just in the past month they’ve started to change their review sheets and how they organize things. Almost everything they organize in the screens now is in the top left on purpose, or at least the most important information is in the top left.
Digital learners are very, very different. They need that sensory overload. Michael talked about being able to take off all those constraints from students and teachers. I am very well-known for doing that; I have a reputation for going outside the box. The first thing I said to my staff in August was, “Okay, we know that they are digital, and they love all of this sensory overload, so instead of banning cell phones and banning MP3 players and saying take those headphones out of your ears, let’s don’t fight it.” Just like in my school we don’t fight fashion; I just give up on fashion sometimes. Let’s let them put those iPods in their ears and listen to their music while they’re studying and see how they do. What we’re finding is they put one ear bud in; they leave the other out. They’re having a conversation, doing work, listening to their music, and getting it!
When I make that same room quiet, they struggle. They get so distracted. They actually focus better with noise. Lollipops are also another really great trick because they put the lollipop in their mouth and they’ll stay much more focused. It’s all sensory overload to us; however, to them it actually helps them learn better. So we’ve had to set aside our own personal judgments and try it out and we’re finding it is working.
As we move forward, we are trying to go digital. We have these great things called interactive whiteboards. I was reading some funny quotes the other day. Back many years ago, one of the presidents said, “What are we going to do? Students are now purchasing ink down at the store. They don’t know how to make their own ink, so how are they going to be able to write when they run out of ink?” We have moved with the times. We no longer use chalkboards; I don’t have a single chalkboard in my school anywhere, and the old whiteboards where you write with markers are actually gone also.
We now have interactive whiteboards. They’re a screen like this and if I could bring one here, I would; it just doesn’t fit in my trunk. It’s real big and you actually go up and touch it and manipulate it, very similar to an iPhone for those of you who have messed around with those. Students can now be interactive and use the interactive board just like they’ve always been able to manipulate things. It’s the same type of thing.
There’s also some new research out there about letting children use cell phones for research so they are getting instant answers. As their mind goes somewhere and wants to know something, they can find the instant answer. We haven’t quite gone that far yet; we still have a little resistance to change.
Our students have become partners in education. As we are digital immigrants, we have learned that they know better, at least in high school, how to learn. We ask them all the time. I ask students and I sit down with students about once a month and we just start talking in the cafeteria or wherever we happen to be. Students last year said, “Miss,” because that’s what they just say, “Miss,” because Weisskopf is too hard. “Miss, why is tutoring right after school? I’ve got to go home and pick up my elementary brother and sister and then I have to start dinner and so I can’t get to tutoring.” And I said, “Well, what time should we make it?” And they said, “Well, how about six o’clock?” And I said “Okay.” So I run buses and we now tutor at night. I have more students showing up to nighttime tutoring than I do during lunch, after school, or before school combined, because that’s when it works for them. When you listen to them and you talk to them and you treat them like your customer, you learn some fascinating things. They’re real quick to tell me which teachers are doing a great job. The tough teachers are the ones they tell me are doing a great job.
There are a lot of emerging fields. We’re not preparing our students anymore for going out there and doing jobs that we now currently know. Digital graphics and gaming are among the new emerging fields. For students coming out with their MBA, the Department of Defense is the biggest employer. You’re not only finding it with Lockheed Martin, and our Department of Defense, you’re also finding it in surgeries. Surgeries have gone digital and are using digital imagery. The prediction is that there will not be a company, organization or field out there that will not need someone who can do digital gaming programming for training and everything else in the future. So we’re starting to go there. With my cute little animations, as we go, we’re headed that way.
Secondary reform is facing all of these things, and every high school faces a lot of what I just mentioned, but in urban education we tend to feel it a little bit larger because we have some factors that others don’t have; the poverty and the other issues coming up, and just like Susan mentioned, when they continue to lose ground every summer, that’s tough.
There are lots of models in our nation for elementary school reform and even some now very good ones for middle school reform. There has yet to be a proven sustained secondary model for reform for taking a lowperforming school, turning it around and sustaining that change. So we’re out there doing it and trying to do it the best we can. Fort Worth ISD came up with a program called PEAK a little over a year-and-a-half ago: Public Educators Accelerating Kids. They took a lot of that research and said, “You’re right, we have to take the cuffs off; we have to let you do what you need to do, and we’ve got to be able to go out and get the absolute best teachers.” Teachers are the number one influence in a student’s education. If they have three years in a row of a poor teacher, that effect is felt for the next nine years. So you have to make sure that they have the best teachers possible.
When you’re in a low-performing school (my campus was the lowest performing school in Fort Worth ISD when I took it over), it is very hard to recruit new teachers. I would go to a job fair and people would go line up to go apply at Paschal and at Heights and at other places, but they wouldn’t come to my campus. So we had to cut that red tape. As I said, it was the lowest-performing high school in Fort Worth ISD. We took the time to hire from the ground up. We’ve taken all the red tape out. We’ve said to educators, “Do what you need to get the job done,” and we talk to kids every day and ask, “What do you need, what can we do?”
So we restructured it from the ground up. We worked with those students, and I’m just going to click over and show you a little bit of the data. The culture and the climate had to change. Everybody knows if you are not working at a place that you love, you’re not as productive. So we really had to change the whole campus.
Four points are statistically significant when you talk about TAKS tests across our state. Last year with the changes we did with hiring the new staff, and with being able to go way outside the box and not come back to the box, even though they try and push me that way, we were having ten point gains in math, ten point gains in science, and in all tests students were taking. So it’s a huge jump! While we’re not quite a highperforming school yet, we’re on our way
We had been missing state standards for many years in a row at Figure 4. South Hills High School. I want to show you one more data point. Part of it was the discipline. And you’ll see with that one-year change, we went from 4,720 incidences of discipline and poor behavior in that campus to 1,700, which was a huge change.
My message is when you do high school reform, you need to change the way you think; you need to make sure you have the best adults, but we don’t need to change the kids, because it’s not them. When we make the difference and we make the change, it makes all the difference to them and they step up and perform. So I could talk forever about my campus and talk forever about those students and how wonderful they are, but I did hit my time. I would love to talk to any of you about this. Thank you.
Dr. Treviño: See, didn’t I tell you that you were in for a treat? I’m so motivated. We have about five minutes for questions to any of our panelists.
Audience: For anybody, why do we continue to have 180 days of school when we no longer need people to work in the fields in the summer months and we no longer have a culture of people having stay-at-home moms to go to when they get out at 3:30 or 2:30 from school? Why do we not simply extend the school year and extend the school day to give us more opportunities for success?
Mr. Feinberg: Be very careful. You’re speaking logically.
Ms. Weisskopf: Actually we do have an extended year now at South Hills. That was one of the first things we did. If you failed a core class, your school year did not end on June 6 like everyone else. You went to July, and so they did stay.
Dr. Treviño: Are there any legislators in the room that we could ask this question? You don’t have to raise your hand. You know, there are a couple of thoughts I’ve had. I feel really sad because we’ve had some great funders who’ve helped us with our most at-risk kids to get that extra time because that’s what they need. Mike said it and we’ve heard it over and over: time, extra time. For the public schools even here in Austin, there’s no funding right now for tutoring or after school or summer school for just your average at-risk student in 1st through 5th grade, so I think it’s an important point. I’ve heard many things. I’ve heard about the summer camps; I’ve heard about vacation commerce and so forth, but I think it’s an economic issue. It costs money. Average daily attendance is a set formula and we’ve been stuck in that formula for a long time, and I think it was about the agricultural calendar.
Audience: A follow-up question: has anybody tried to quantify the cost of not doing it? Obviously the cost of doing it is a short-term concept, the cost of not doing it is a long-term concept, and it seems to me that one could figure out which is more. Has anybody done that kind of research, the cost of not doing anything?
Mr. Feinberg: I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that, unfortunately, that’s not enough. A great example of that is early childhood where we have clear studies that show the value of starting earlier as opposed to building prisons on the back end, and that still hasn’t motivated us to have enough political will to put enough money in there for all day pre-K. When you start trying to lengthen the school year, you make some interesting friends and you make some interesting enemies. The vacation industry can’t stand the idea of a longer school day, so it’s like KIPP versus Mickey Mouse.
Audience: I think the legislature would be extraordinarily receptive to these conversations.
Ms. Weisskopf: I will say my school does have plenty of fame; that’s how I can fund that. We do the nighttime, run the buses, but we had to be low-performing to get all that money to be able to do what I need to do.
Dr. Treviño: That is so true. That is a good point. If you are doing well and you have a good formula of extra time and your kids do well and you want to sustain that, oftentimes in public education you’ll lose the money. I’ve just seen that. Let’s take two more questions because our time is short.
Audience: What would happen in public schools if they did it anyway?
Dr. Treviño: If they did it anyway. Well, I will say teachers, in my experience, many of them are almost like missionaries; they really are committed to their craft. I have one sitting right here, master teacher, who will spend time with those students that need the extra help, but the issue is pay. I feel like a doctor would get paid for extra service, any professional would get paid for extra services. I consistently feel that teachers just don’t get paid for one of the most important jobs, and so that’s what happens. But in my experience, and anyone can comment, teachers go above and beyond because of the relationships; they know it makes a difference. One more question.
Audience: You say it’s pay but my understanding at KIPP is they get about 85 cents on a dollar compared to what public schools get; yet they’re doing it.
Mr. Feinberg: We’re very lean on administrative costs. We don’t have the assistant superintendent of left brain instruction, things like that, and we don’t have lots of assistant principals running around our schools. So all of those administrative savings at the school level and district level get pumped into the classrooms, mainly to pay the teachers.
Dr. Treviño: Do you have more students, Mike?
Mr. Feinberg: Yes, our average class size in elementary is about 25 as opposed to 21 or 22. In middle school it’s closer to 30. If a teacher is very good at managing and teaching a class of 22 to 24, they can do 30. The only true effect we’ve gotten when we tinker around with that kind of stuff—like the state legislature says the mandate is no more than 24 or 23 or 22—research shows you don’t really get a bang for the buck unless you go below 18. No one can afford to do that, so all we’ve done is when we go from like 23 to 22 is we have to hire 2,000 more teachers on the back end.
Ms. Weisskopf: The thing they love is athletics. They may not be great on the football field, but we push them in that direction because we’ve learned that in order to maintain students in high school when they’re a high-risk population, they have to attach to something. If they don’t have a relationship or something in that building that they attach to, whether it’s the fine arts, whatever it happens to be for every individual, if they don’t attach, their risk of dropping out is nine-fold.
Dr. Treviño: Teaching to the spirit of every child.
Mr. Feinberg: And two quick things to add to that. One is that’s why the focus has to be on college readiness and not just TAKS. It’s important that we do have testing. We do have to measure the progress and all that, but we can’t look at the ultimate goal of college readiness. If you’re not focusing on the creativity aspect, then you’re not preparing the kids to go to and through college. And then lastly, also the creativity goes hand-inhand with the extended day. If we ran our schools with drill and kill with worksheets, the kids would be running for the hills. They wouldn’t want to stay the longer hours every day, every week and every year, so there have to be things that feed their creative spirit, their passion, not just on the drill-and-kill time.
Dr. Landry: I think in the early childhood area the focus used to be on a lot of art and painting and dance. We can keep all that in place, but it has to be done with a lot of discussion and input and talk, conversations around creativity, so they’re learning how to communicate in combination with their creativity.
Audience: And I don’t think creative thinking is limited to the arts.
Ms. Weisskopf: We have to be creative in teaching and the practice of teaching itself has to be creative or we’re not there.
Dr. Treviño: And I think supporting gifted and talented programming in the state is another great way to really embrace that as well. This gentleman has had his hand up. Last question.
Audience: Professions, scientific fields, all of this is good and well, what about the electricians and plumbers and everything we all need? I mean, those people have to be educated and have to get through school and have to think. Just because everybody’s heading for college, doesn’t mean we all won’t need plumbers and electricians and painters and carpenters and so on and so forth who can do a good job.
Mr. Feinberg: I completely agree. I would say that college, in and of itself, might not be for everyone. For people that want to go be electricians and carpenters and jobs like that, the skills to be able to go college are for everyone because you don’t want to hire a carpenter to work on your house who doesn’t have great math skills or great creative problemsolving skills. So we need to prepare everyone for success to go to and through college. At that point, should they choose to do something else and get trained in another very specific vocational career, that’s fantastic too, but that’s a choice they make themselves.
Ms. Weisskopf: We don’t focus on career-ready anymore or collegeready—they’re not separate. We do college- and career-ready, so as we’re doing all of our different majors and our different things. The teachers are addressing both in one and in unison now.
Dr. Treviño: I think we all agree to get out of the factory of school and look at the individual children that are coming through. I want to close with a thought from Ralph Waldo Emerson: success is to laugh often and much and to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. And so for all of those of you in this room that have in any way impacted public education, I commend you and I thank you, and I hope that you will continue on that journey because that journey is truly a successful one. We thank you for leaving this world a better place by your engagement in public education.